Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Spring Forward, Fall Back—The Enduring Legacy of William Willett

It certainly felt like spring has sprung this morning. I guess my regular readers will not have a problem in recognising the hill in today’s photo. Plenty making the ascent on this Easter Saturday.

Anyhow, we’re on the brink of transitioning to British Summer Time (BST), heralding the arrival of lighter evenings! And darker mornings!

Whilst our phones and computers cope with this temporal adjustment automagically, it must hold particular significance for those custodians tasked with the upkeep of the old mechanical public clocks, of which Big Ben is the most famous.

Historically, Britain grappled with a convoluted temporal landscape, where disparate towns adhered to their own local solar-based time. This decentralised approach posed challenges, particularly for the coordination of railway schedules. To address this issue, the adoption of a standardised time, known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), proved indispensable.

Nevertheless, summer brought about a conundrum: dawn broke too soon, while sunset was as late as 9 pm under GMT. William Willett, a builder, recognising this as an ‘inefficiency’, advocated for clock adjustments during the summer months to better utilise daylight hours. Although initially met with derision, the onset of World War I precipitated a shift in attitude1mcmahonp (2020). The Great Clock Springs Forward | Parliamentary Archives: Inside the Act Room. [online] Parliament.uk. Available at: https://archives.blog.parliament.uk/2020/03/11/the-great-clock-springs-forward/ [Accessed 26 Mar. 2022].

In a bid to conserve fuel, European nations embraced Daylight Saving Time, prompting Britain to follow suit, thereby cementing BST as a permanent fixture. Regrettably, Willett passed away prior to witnessing the fruition of his concept.

Even in contemporary times, the implementation of BST remains a momentous occasion. Those responsible for the maintenance of the Big Ben undertake a meticulous process: muting the chimes, resetting the time to midnight, and commencing operations two hours ahead of schedule for testing. Such measures are undertaken to ensure seamless transitions as Britain ‘springs forward,’ indulging in the extended summer twilight, ensuring punctuality as we embrace the start of summer.

One individual, though, harbouring apprehension toward the notion of ‘springing forward,’ is none other than the Prime Minister, who is exhibiting a penchant for delaying the announcement of the forthcoming General Election until the eleventh hour.







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